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Nocturnal Animals (TIFF Review)

Nocturnal Animals (TIFF Review)
09.13.2016by: Chris Bumbray
9 10

PLOT: An unhappy art gallery owner (Amy Adams) finds herself obsessed by the manuscript of a novel by her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) which tells the story of a man (also Gyllenhaal) seeking revenge on the gang of thugs who violently attacked his family.

REVIEW: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a particularly daring sophomore film for director Tom Ford (A SINGLE MAN) whoís better known as one of the worldís greatest fashion designers. Juxtaposing a relationship drama with a violent revenge drama is tough juggling act, and with the narrative frame being so complex, cross-cutting between an A, a B and a C story, itís quite the accomplishment that none of the stories gets short-changed, with each being fully realized.

The movie will likely be sold mostly on the basis of the DEATH WISH-style revenge drama contained in the manuscript Adams is reading throughout, but the other stories are just as compelling, with Adams doing great work in a sophisticated character study of a middle-aged woman who regrets sacrificing love for comfort. Lovingly shot by Ford, with scenes of her lounging around in formal wear looking like a spread in Vanity Fair, Adams has never been more beautiful. In fact, the cast is uniformly gorgeous, something which feels an intentional nod at the ultimate artificiality and stylization of the tales told. Some are easier to digest than others (Armie Hammer isnít convincing as a middle-aged businessman) but it gives the movie a fantasy element that makes the harshness of the Texas-set revenge section of the movie easier to digest given how dark it gets.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a particularly interesting vehicle for Gyllenhaal, who has to play two very different roles. The bits with him as Adamsís somewhat naÔve first-love arenít quite as exciting as the other scenes of him as a desperate father and husband looking for justice, but itís nonetheless a very strong showcase for him.

If youíre a genre fan, the most interesting part of the movie is definitely the Texas-set tale and Ford proves himself to be an incredibly efficient shooter of gritty action. While certainly just as gorgeously lensed (by Seamus McGarvey) itís a stark contrast to the drawing-room melodrama of the rest of the movie. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is very menacing as the unhinged good-ol-boy who attacks Gyllenhaalís wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter only to get more than he bargained for in return.

Of everyone, the juiciest part no doubt goes to Michael Shannon. Playing a cowboy cop dying of lung cancer, he seems to be having the time of his life digging his teeth into the part. Coughing his lungs out like a modern-day Doc Holliday, Shannonís actually cast against-type as a mostly sympathetic, if dark character, who helps Gyllenhaal get even as a kind of last hurrah. The two also play well off each other, with the coiffed-Gyllenhaal (in his Tom Ford shirts) a major contrast to the alpha male, mustachioed Shannon here.

Given the way the film is cut up, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS does require a certain amount of sophistication from its audience, as well as tolerance for Fordís occasional lapses into kitsch (such as the sure-to-be-infamous opening credits), but itís a deliciously entertaining movie to watch. Heck, I saw it at the tail-end of a five-movie day here at TIFF and my eyeballs were glued to the screen. Itís intensely enjoyable and utterly unique.

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